For those seeking a culinary adventure, Cuba may not be the first destination which springs to mind. In fact, until recently, Cuba wasn’t a destination that sprung to mind for anyone but the most daring explorer. Thankfully, all that has changed; the country is welcoming (and internationally welcomed) and the food vibrant, hearty and generous – much like the people. While folk all over the world are increasingly well versed in Latin American cuisine and Cuban food trucks are de rigueur in the States, the food of this great country remains largely untapped and unheralded on these shores. This, it seems, is soon set to change; the blend of Native American, Spanish, African and Caribbean technique and ingredients having vast appeal to globetrotting, adventurist foodies. So, with this in mind, and with the help of Cuba Holidays, here are 5 IDEAL must try Cuban dishes.
ARROZ CON POLLO CUBANO
Rice with chicken. A terse simplicity in the title belies the complexity of flavour on display here. Although the dish has its origins in Spain, it’s eaten all over Latin America and the Cuban version employs its own unique touches to make it personal to the country. Most families have their own (sometimes secret) recipe, but the essentials of the dish boil down to this: marinated chicken (sometimes game birds are used) is browned and rice added; all boiled up and simmered down in a fragrant, saffron-infused stock, the result reminiscent of a paella. Lots of fresh vegetables and aromatic spices make it a heady, moreish eating experience. The additions of cumin, lime and sometimes even a little rum, are unique to the island.
MOROS Y CRISTIANOS
Another rice dish, and one ubiquitous across the land; served at virtually every restaurant and in every home in Cuba. Translated as ‘Moors and Christians’, the black bean and white rice dish stands alone as a main course or can be enjoyed in tandem with the above pollo. As with many great Cuban dishes, there’s intoxicating spicing abundant, and it’s nourishing as hell.
The Cubans love to dance, they love to eat, and they love to party. Put this together and you have medianoche; ‘midnight’ in Spanish. Yes, we know what you’re thinking, you can’t write a list about Cuban food and not include the Cubano, but trust us, the medianoche is the real deal. Sweet, pillowy eggy bread is filled with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles, then pressed and lightly grilled. The effect is like the finest ham and cheese croissant you’ve ever eaten, but with a distinctly Cuban – spicy, generous, complete – lilt. It’s enjoyed in Havana’s bars and clubs with nightly regularity; hence the name, midnight.
Your waistline may not thank you, but it’s is worth the extra pounds and clogged arteries, once in a while. The term chicharones is actually fairly loose, and can be interpreted as anything porky that’s been deep fried. Pork rind treated this way – akin to crackling – is a perennially popular beer snack, and belly given the same once over is a fantastic, calorific dish in itself.
TOSTONES & PLATANOS MADUROS
Okay, two dishes here, both involving plantain; one savoury and one sweet.
Firstly, tostones. This popular side dish uses green, unripe plantain and employs a double-fry method to cook them through and add crunch. They are then salted (so you won’t mistake them for a dessert!) and enjoyed as a snack – dipped in a garlicky sauce – or as accompaniment to fried pork.
Their cousin ‘platanos maduros’ uses ripe – sometimes so much so it’s black – plantain to fashion a delicious dessert; caramelised, sweet and surprisingly unctuous. This then, the perfect end to a Cuban feast.
……AND WHO COULD FORGET, RUM!
Hey, when in Cuba, do as the Cubans do. Pour yourself a rum on ice, order a mojito or fix yourself a libre; the perfect partner to your gastronomic journey.